Don't encourage us
24 June 2017 07:29 (South Africa)
South Africa

Fokofpolisiekar: Sober, older, but still with as much spunk and relevance as before

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • South Africa
Main photo: fokofopolisiekar’s Wynand Myburgh spits water on to the crowd at Shimmy Beach Club. Photo: Shaun Swingler

More than a decade ago, five guys from behind Cape Town’s boerewors curtain exploded on to the music scene. To this day, they have few, if any, contemporaries. Despite the conservative Afrikaans culture having progressed since then, the band seems to be as relevant – and popular – as ever. By ANTOINETTE MULLER.

En nou is dit ses jaar later en soms voel als nogsteed dieselfde (and now it’s six years later and sometimes everything still feels the same).

That line, from the self-titled track of the Afrikaans rock band fokofopolisiekar is probably one of their most famous. But that was 14 years ago and it was a throwaway line about high school life in a conservative Afrikaans culture. Yet, that line has continued to be belted out by the band and its fans with the song earning cult status.

This extraordinary staying power is not something you’d expect from a band which, by their own admission, was started as a sort of a joke.

But for thousands of angry Afrikaans teenagers, fokof became a proxy for their disillusionment. Mostly, it was an outlet. Their gigs were visceral, violent and an excuse to use Jagermeister for mouthwash. Few will be able to recall details from those wild nights at Mercury Live. It was teenage angst on steroids (or probably cocaine) and they were the gods of an identity revolution.

But much has changed since then. Most who attended those gigs ten years ago are now well-adjusted adults, possibly the kind of adults fokof used to sing about. The band members themselves are grown up, with wives, kids, dogs and successful side-projects without swear words. All of them have made careers out of doing something they love.

And even though the band has only played a handful of gigs since they released their last full-length album, Swanesang back in 2006, their fame has clearly not waned.

There is a new album in the making and in March, a crowdfunding campaign was launched on Thundafund to pay for it. They reached their dream goal of R500,000 in nine days. Their new goal is to pre-sell 15,000 albums, available for R80 through a Thundafund plege. It would get them gold status in South Africa, something the band has never achieved before, but which they are hopeful of. At the time of writing, there were 34 days left to go, R692,971 pledged and 1,039 backers.

When they relaunched all their albums on vinyl, they played to sold-out club shows across the country something the band says “they couldn’t even do ten years ago”.

Considering how niche fokof were when they first arrived, the amount of money they have raised is astonishing. So, how does a band who was able to relate so critically to its audience, remain relevant now that everyone, including their fans, are all grown up?

***

Shimmy Beach Club isn’t exactly the kind of place you’d associate with a band who built their reputation on rebelling against the establishment. The plush venue in Cape Town’s Waterfront is a far cry from a crammed, smoke-filled Mercury Live or the boogaloos skatepark where they made a name for themselves. Then again, you probably wouldn’t associate frontman Francois van Coke being a little bit irked over the Stormers losing to the Lions, but he is. Everyone is notably relaxed and notably sober. Hunter Kennedy sits at the head of the table engulfed in a cloud of smoke, inhaling cigarettes like oxygen, his cheese grater voice sounding exactly like you’d expect it to.

Four members of fokofpoilisiekar share a light-hearted moment back stage ahead of their performance at Shimmy Beach Club. Photo: Shaun Swingler

There is a constant conveyer belt of people entering and exiting the interview room, all seemingly oblivious of the somewhat serious discussion that is being attempted in the middle of it. These people are old friends. New friends. Friends of friends. Hangers-on. It’s damn weird. But that’s just what happens around them.

In the niche where they operate, they are sensations. This becomes increasingly clear throughout the night as Van Coke is endlessly stopped – and duly obliges – for selfie upon selfie. Fists pump in tempo with the music at the front of the stage and choruses of songs written over a decade ago are routinely sung back by the crowd.

Fans line up on front of the stage before fokofpolisekar's gig at Shimmy Beach Club on Easter Weekend. Photo: Shaun Swingler

The band’s stage presence hasn’t changed much. Van Coke might be more sober, but it takes him less than a minute into the band’s first song to be carried on the hands of fans. Even all grown up, he delivers old songs with as much conviction and raw emotion as he did 14 years ago.

Wynand Myburgh is still the most energetic, bouncing around on stage like an alternative gymnast and blowing water onto the crowd like a skinny whale which has evolved to live on land and learned to play bass. Jaco “Snake” Venter still bashes his drums like a wind-up toy and Johnny de Ridder still oozes smooth guitar melodies.

Never too old for a stagedive. Francois van Coke dives into the crowd at Shimmy Beach club. Photo: Shaun Swingler

Everything feels totally different, everything has changed. But when we’re gigging, I feel like I did when I was 23, but I don’t drink any more at all. So that’s quite a drastic change,” Van Coke says.

From their interaction – with each other and their fans – it is obvious that at their very core, the group are just good mates having a good time. For Myburgh, this is where the magic sits.

A lot of bands who have been together for as long as we have start fighting with each other or there are rivalries. At this stage, everything is good for us,” he says.

To be able to do what you love – and make a living from it – is a privilege very few of us get. And, if it does happen, you’re bound to lose a few mates along the way. Not them. They are still very much Die Bende (the gang), they were in their early 20s when they were broke and pissed off. But their success surprised even them considering people laughed at the idea of an Afrikaans punk band initially.

Turns out speaking to a disillusioned generation isn’t so funny.

When I listen to the old fokof songs, I feel like I did when we wrote them. The albums feel like little time capsules and that’s where we’re trying to get back to,” Kennedy says about the new album and the spectrum of fans who now range from the people who grew up with them, to new ones who came to find the band through the members’ various side projects.

His lyrics have always been provocative and have explored themes ranging from teenage heartbreak and fighting against Afrikaans conservatism in the band’s early years and later flirting with political themes, without being outright political.

The backdrop to all of this was Afrikaner culture and identity, but Kennedy says that theme is somewhat less relevant now.

I think we have snapshots of where we are currently as a country and socio-politically. To be honest about how we’re feeling is a tumultuous journey. For me, the Afrikaner in his essence is less of theme than it was before. I don’t even know if I even identify as an Afrikaner per say,” the guitarist says.

Johnny de Ridder, Hunter Kennedy and Francois van Coke share a joke during an interview with The Daily Maverick. Photo: Shaun Swingler

In a time when much of Afrikaans culture is still, far too often, associated with the right-wing notions of Steve Hofmeyr, by sheer mass of his music’s popularity, fokof offers a different perspective.

Many Afrikaans people have shunned Hofmeyr and his ilk, but Kennedy doesn’t think that approach is ideal.

I don’t think distancing yourself completely form somebody like Steve is the best approach. I think it’s critical to have challenging conversations. But he’s just a symptom of a minority and he only represents an extreme right faction,” he explains.

But drawing people in those debates through their music has, at times, been a challenge simply because of their extremely provocative attitude. They have not been without controversy, but Van Coke says he feels the band made it “cool” to be Afrikaans.

I think there is a heavy identity crisis for young Afrikaans kids. And I think they still relate to the old lyrics, even though the landscape and context in which they were written has completely changed,” Myburgh adds.

The band has, undoubtedly, had an influence on perceptions. You might be unlikely to see Kennedy - or any other member of the band for that matter – speaking on the floor at the United Nations like Rage Against the Machine's Zack de la Rocha, but their message still resonates loud and clear. And, once in a while, they’ll follow through on it.

In 2011, Van Coke casually burned an old South African flag hanging in a bar in Langebaan. There are other such examples where the band would get so completely gatvol, of what “Afrikaner culture” had come to symbolise.

Francois van Coke gestures to the crowd at Shimmy Beach Club over the Easter weekend. Photo: Shaun Swingler

But writing an Afrikaans rock album now is so vastly different to how it was back then. Each member has new influences, their own side-projects and solo careers. Will that influence how the new album sounds?

Kennedy says there are boundaries with crossovers while Myburgh says that fokof will always be less advanced than the other projects they are involved in.

We try to stick to a more garage sound with fokof,” the bassist explains.

Myburgh also says that the band has never considered “what people would like” when they make music.

We always wrote every album for ourselves. We just wanted to do something in Afrikaans that we wanted to hear. We’re having a lot of discussions amongst each other and trying to find that unity,” he says.

The band’s staying power is extraordinary and Van Coke says he is “surprised and grateful” for the support they continue to receive. But what will fokof’s legacy be decades from now?

A footnote,” De Ridder manages to get a word in for the first time during the interview.

Critical thoughts,” Kennedy adds.

I hope that people who listened to our music were forced to reconsider their conservative notions,” he says.

Later, the band would start their set with the song Brand Suid Afrika (Burn South Africa). One line says: Jy kla oor die toestand van ons land, nou fokken doen iets daar omtrent (you complain about the state of our country, then fucking do something about it). Now there’s a critical thought, even if the crowd was probably too drunk to absorb it by then. DM

Main photo: fokofopolisiekar’s Wynand Myburgh spits water on to the crowd at Shimmy Beach Club. Photo: Shaun Swingler

  • Antoinette Muller
    still-a-boy copy.jpg
    Antoinette Muller

    Antoinette thinks of the world and the people who live in it as a bear with a sore paw. She has a stick covered in thorns and she’s poking the bear. When she’s not doing that, she’s watching cricket and longing for the days of the boring, boring Arsenal.

  • South Africa

Get overnight news and latest Daily Maverick articles






Do Not Miss